Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Acupuncture May Help Chemotherapy Side Effects

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

Dec. 5, 2000 -- Nausea and vomiting -- never a lot of fun -- can be among the most distressing and disabling side effects of chemotherapy for breast cancer patients. Now, researchers at the NIH have shown that a variation of the traditional Oriental medical practice of acupuncture, along with commonly used medications, may help.

"The results of our study suggest that among patients receiving high-dose chemotherapy, electroacupuncture was more effective in controlling vomiting than just medication alone," says Joannie Shen, MD, MPH, research associate at the NIH, whose study appears in the Dec. 6, 2000 edition of TheJournal of the American Medical Association. Electroacupuncture uses a mild electric current passed through traditional acupuncture needles placed lightly into specific points on the body.

However, it's not known from the study whether acupuncture would be as effective in women receiving standard dose-chemotherapy, she tells WebMD.

In the study, over 100 breast cancer patients receiving high-dose chemotherapy all received drugs commonly used to control nausea and vomiting. But one group of women also received electroacupuncture in addition to the drugs, and another group received drugs and minimal needling -- a kind of "sham" acupuncture intended to mimic the real thing. A third group received only the drugs and no acupuncture, according to the report.

Shen and her colleagues found that those women who had received electroacupuncture had fewer vomiting episodes than the women who only received drugs. Even the women who got the "minimal needling" did somewhat better than the women who only got drugs, she reports.

That suggests that some of the response to acupuncture could be explained by the "placebo effect" -- the concept that some patients will get better even without getting the real treatment, perhaps just from receiving more attention from caregivers. However, the acupuncture and the minimal needling was terminated at five days, and when Shen and colleagues went back to look at how the patients were faring on the ninth day, there were no longer significant differences between the three groups.

That's important, Shen says, because it supports the idea that acupuncture really had an effect on the body. "We were skeptical at the beginning, thinking that maybe it was just the extra attention, so that's why we did the follow-up," Shen tells WebMD. "It's the strongest part of our study."

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow